As the crow flies, the straight-shot distance between the main administration building of the Archdiocese of New Orleans on Walmsley Avenue and the increasingly populous Catholic communities in St. Tammany and Washington civil parishes on the northshore ranges from about 25 to 45 miles.
Even with a tailwind, that considerable distance could lead to one very weary crow. But humans faced with serpentine roads to nowhere have an even tougher time, often having to negotiate rush-hour traffic and toll booths on the Causeway or circumvent accidents, fog and marsh fires on the interstates. Their mileage is easily 50 percent more than any pampered bird.
Now northshore Catholics will have a place to flock to in their own backyard.
In dedicating the new Archdiocese of New Orleans Northshore Pastoral Center in Covington Feb. 15, Archbishop Aymond said the major factors for its establishment were increased visibility and presence for the Catholic church and convenience for northshore Catholics.
“This was a special request of the priests on the northshore, and I wholeheartedly endorsed their request,” Archbishop Aymond said. “I feel it’s a very creative approach to giving the Catholic church a greater, visible presence on the northshore. I’m looking forward to using the facility often myself.”
Priests from the two northshore deaneries planted the idea with Archbishop Aymond shortly after he arrived as archbishop in June 2009. Those initial discussions led to more formal meetings about the purpose, location and size of the pastoral center.
“This means convenience and availability,” said Father Rodney Bourg, pastor of Most Holy Trinity Parish and dean of the West St. Tammany-Washington Deanery. “We don’t have to go all the way over to the southshore every time we need services from the archdiocese. It gives the archdiocese a real presence here.”
Since visibility from a major highway was a major goal, the archdiocese targeted an existing building at 69090 Highway 190 East Service Road in Covington, near the intersection with Interstate 12 and adjacent to Hood Northlake Chevrolet. The archdiocese has leased the first floor of a two-story building, giving it 6,800 square feet for offices and meeting rooms.
While the pastoral center will serve as the northshore hub for Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, it will offer office and meeting space for a variety of archdiocesan ministries, including Catholic schools, religious education, permanent diaconate, metropolitan tribunal, deanery meetings and archdiocesan seminars.
“There was a need for a centralized presence for Catholic Charities on the northshore,” said Craig Marinello, director of the pastoral center and a parishioner of St. Peter Parish in Covington. “Catholic Charities had a program here or there at the 18 church parishes over here, but having that centralized presence in a unified facility that could serve the archdiocese as well as parishioners and people of the community was very important.”
Marinello, 37, said one of the most important decisions was to find a visible facility that was as centrally located as possible to both northshore deaneries. Marinello estimates that it will take a parishioner from Annunciation Church in Bogalusa about 35 minutes to get to the center, cutting about an hour off of a drive into New Orleans.
“That’s absolutely huge,” Marinello said. “One of the largest issues on the northshore is lack of transportation, so having a place that’s convenient is an absolute must. You also want to make sure that it’s easy for the pastor and the deacons and the people we’re serving to get to.”
While the center’s mission is still evolving, the Office of the Permanent Diaconate already is making use of the building’s teleconferencing capabilities by offering some diaconate seminars, which are transmitted live from the main diaconate formation center at Infant Jesus of Prague Mission in Harvey.
Cuts commuting time
“It could be about and hour-and-a-half to two-hour drive to get from the northshore to Harvey,” Marinello said. “One of the desires of the pastors was to be able to form their deacons on the northshore without having to send them to the West Bank for every meeting there is.”
“This is much more than a symbol,” said Father Mark Lomax, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell and dean of the East St. Tammany-Washington Parish Deanery. “This is going to be a great asset for the people, not just for the Catholic population, but everybody from the northshore.”
The pastoral center will have a counselor available 4 1/2 days a week. A case manager who currently works at St. Luke will continue to see clients in Slidell, handling the east side of the civil parish.
The facility has six offices and three meeting rooms: a small board room (for 25 people), a large board room (for 45 people) and a large conference room (for 75).
Plans for having a rotating presence for archdiocesan offices are still being formulated. The Office of Catholic Schools may have office hours there one day a week; the Office of Religious Education has offered seminars; a Catholic men’s group meets every week.
There is a full-service computer lab for adults who may be looking to advance their skills, and there is a play area for children while the adults are taking computer classes.
The center also may double as an emergency archdiocesan headquarters in case of a mandatory hurricane evacuation, Marinello said.
Hurricane evacuation bonus
“We put a lot of open space into the building,” he said. “If, God forbid, we have another Katrina, the entire archdiocese could move to the northshore and this could become the home base. We’re north of I-12, so that takes it out of the risk zone for flooding. Also, we have a full shower in the facility, so if everybody had to troop up here and set up cots, we’d be ready. We have a lot of small tables that could be placed against the walls and turn them into offices.”
Marinello said all parishes are invited to use the facility whenever they need additional space. The posted office hours are Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the facility will be available after hours.
“This is a hybrid building,” Marinello said. “I work for Catholic Charities, but I also do a lot of work for the archdiocese. We’re all one family. We’re centered on giving people a help up, not a hand out. We’re focused on empowering people and getting them back to work.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.